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For Such a Time: Jesus Not Institution

July 27, 2010

Our society is skeptical of institutions.  We tend to equate institutions with corruption.  Listen to the news concerning the way we talk about corruption in government, sports, Wall Street, and business.  Of course, church is thrown into this category by many in our society.  For instance, “The DaVinci Code” not only questioned the divinity of Christ but also presented Christianity as a subversive institution.

What should we say to these allegations against the institutional church?  I think we should agree with them.  They’re right.  Of course, not every Christian institution is corrupt, but we would be wise to admit that Christian institutions have often sinned and have many times misrepresented Christ. 

In his book “Blue Like Jazz,” Donald Miller tells of attending Reed College in the northwest.  Reed is a place that is socially very liberal and religiously opposed to religion – especially Christianity.  Donald found only a handful of Christians on campus.  Every year at Reed a festival occurred that was full of wild parties and uninhibited hedonism.  During this festival, Donald and his friends set up a confession booth.  Here’s the catch:  when a person stepped into the confession booth they were not asked to confess their sins, but instead found a Christian confessing the sins of Christianity including the Crusades, wars, support of slavery, and shady televangelists.

Institutions will let you down, but Jesus will not!  To reach our secular world we will have to admit that Christian institutions have not and do not always represent Christ well.  I think we have to critique ourselves on this matter.  How do I as a Christian and we as a church represent Christ?  Are we congruent to His teachings and example or have we developed a culture that has little to do with Him?  Our skeptical world will not be drawn to Christianity as one religious option amongst a pluralistic society.  They will be drawn to Jesus who is full of truth, love, and power.  He is the one that created them and the one they were created for (Col. 1:16). 

Of course this thought is nothing new.  Jesus told us that if we would lift Him up then He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).  Peter told the crowd at Jerusalem that there was no other name by which people can be saved (Acts 4:12).  Cool and trendy church with ripped jeans and sharper technology cannot compete with the person of Jesus to reach our modern world. 

While the importance of Jesus is not new, He is as vital to our current situation as ever.  Why is this true? 

First, our secular world values relationships not institutions.  In the past, folks generally trusted institutions and accepted their word as true.  Now, skepticism has overtaken trust.  However, our post-modern world is hungry for relationships (have you heard of Facebook?).  Salvation is a person.  The way, the truth, and the life has a name and a face.  Jesus was a person in history and His Spirit offers companionship to our daily lives.  Let’s preach Jesus thus forcing the world to make a decision about a person and not an institution or system.   

Second, a focus upon Jesus turns our institutions into a movement.  Jesus’ followers were originally a movement rather than an institution and they lacked any power to be anything else.  They preached the name of Jesus no matter the threat.  They loved their neighbors no matter their background.  Proclamation (words) and service (deeds) made a powerful combination.  Institutions tend to domesticate movements.  A focus upon Jesus leads us to return to His calling, His passion, and His mission.  It diminishes red tape and increases a wild movement unable to be contained by an institution. 

Third, Jesus is all we have and He is all we need.  This point speaks to the nature of Christianity more than the world.  Christianity in our country has been given so much:  land, facilities, education, staff, and money.  Yet with all that we have been given, in reality it is only the message and presence of Jesus that can accomplish anything eternal.  The good news is that we don’t need anything else!  If everything else were taken away – no more building, no more staff, no more money, no more music, and no more programs – we would still have the power to turn the world upside down.  Jesus is supreme over all things.  He is the fullness of God.  He is the first word and the last word.  We were created by Him and for Him (Col. 1:15-19).  When institutional religion becomes desperate for success, we can be tempted to lose our trust in the power of Jesus and His Spirit and place our trust in human objects – human leaders, a certain style of music, beauty of a facility, or slick programs.

If there is anything else in this world, whether secular or religious, that you are trying to gain peace and joy from, then set it aside now and turn back to Jesus.


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